Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.
Jennifer Saucier’s Mattoon softball squad went to Effingham Saturday for an Apollo Conference doubleheader, their third doubleheader this week, to battle the Hearts and a chance for third place in the Apollo Conference standings.
The Greenwave lost both, 10-9 and 13-12, the first in the bottom of the seventh inning and the second in the bottom of the ninth, as Mattoon went to 6-8 (2-4 Apollo) and Effingham went to 8-4 (4-2 Apollo).
“Effingham started hitting the ball and we came right back at them,” Saucier said. “It definitely was a battle of the bats.”
The Hearts jumped out to a 3-0 lead before Mattoon’s Kam Conlin smashed a home run over the left field fence in the top of the third inning bringing the Greenwave to within one.
“That was huge,” she said. “That was honestly the tone changer. We had a runner on, Kam hits a home run, and we’re feeling more confident and back in the game and it went from there.”
Undeterred, Effingham came back in their half of the inning and put four more up, just to see Mattoon score five in the top of the fourth to tie the game at seven.
Mattoon’s Alyssa Whitley, running for Izzy Phillips who singled, scored with two outs in the top of the seventh to tie the game again, and then saw the Greenwave take the lead when Sydney Starwalt scored on a passed ball.
As it had been throughout the game, Effingham came back and put two on the board winning the game 10-9.
“Most of Effingham’s hits were solid hits,” she said as both teams combined for 27 hits. “It wasn’t like we were making error after error, they had legit hits. We came back and did the same thing. It wasn’t anything our pitchers were doing wrong either. Honestly, they just hit and it is what it is. We could’ve cleaned up a little bit but overall we did well.”
A fielding snafu led to Effingham’s first run as the Hearts’ Jerzi Bierman stole home as the Greenwave were attempting to walk back a Hearts runner to first.
It was much of the same in the second game as the two teams combined for 25 hits. Effingham tied the game at 12 with 2 runs in the bottom of the fifth, as the squads went to extra innings. The Hearts’ Riley Cunningham singled home Raegan Boone for the 13-12 win.
The Greenwave played 50 percent of their schedule thus far just this week alone going 4-3.
“Our first week of games we were on the field twice,” she said. “That was definitely hard. That has definitely hurt a little bit not being able to work on those small things. But I think we have the natural ability to where we are fine to go play our game and have the chances to work on those things.”
Saucier said the team was stuck inside for the better part of the beginning of the season.
“We were stuck inside for weeks and weeks,” she said. “There’s only so much you can do inside and it turned into team bonding. That has helped not on only focused on doing the same things but to bond and be a family.”
Saucier attributes the losses to the team putting too much pressure on themselves to succeed.
“I think we put too much pressure on ourselves,” she said. “I told them that they are all capable. We’re kind of looked at as a young team and not be able to do a whole lot this year,” she said.
Mattoon graduated five seniors from last year’s team and have several freshmen and sophomores playing key roles this season.
“It’s been the complete opposite. We’ve been playing tough teams. We’re not getting pummeled at all. We just have to trust ourselves, and trust our abilities in be confident when we get the ball and know what we’re going to do – and not be scared at the plate.”
Six out of the 8 Greenwave losses have been by one run.
The positive side of the losses was the batting, seeing the offense roar to life.
“We had two or three girls have their first home runs,” she said. “That was exciting and I’m hoping that that can lead into some confidence to be a bit more consistent in getting big hits in the future.”
Mattoon faces a great 13-1 Newton team on Monday, and St. Joe-Ogden on Tuesday which will be a rematch from Friday’s 8-1 Greenwave victory.